Loose Ends: Sense of place continues to be strong

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MEEKER — You know how everyone has to sit in the same place, week after week? I overheard someone in the new rec. center say, “You go ahead, I’m waiting for the other one,” as they gathered all their sundries for the shower.
These regular users of the lap lanes, the river walk, the showers or the lockers begin to settle in day after day to making themselves “at home,” increasing their sense of familiarity and comfort level. Somehow all the places ordinary people go regularly — to church, restaurants and school or work — take the place of a home-away-from-home of sorts, so sitting in the same spot ensures that one is not out of one’s comfort zone.
Thinking about communities with this in mind could help us all weather the changes that continue to come with the development of gas and oil here. One newcomer was heard to confide to friends or family, “I still feel like an outsider here.” Another sheepishly admitted, “For some reason, I am having trouble fitting in, which is strange because I am used to moving around.”
Both of these people had been here a while, longer than a few years even, and seemed to be surprised by their feeling of isolation. Although both individuals were homeowners in town, enjoyed their jobs and had joined many community clubs and organizations, they just never felt accepted. Everyone said reassuring things, encouraged them to get even more involved within the community but eventually both families moved away.
While the individual family circumstances differed, the one thing they had in common was that they never felt completely comfortable in Meeker. Most of us have known quite a few people that shared that feeling but they left Meeker for myriad other reasons such as living closer to families, starting a new job or needing to live nearer medical facilities. The community’s clannishness is often a problem but it is not just because people don’t like newcomers. There is an undercurrent of the close-knit relationships that have been woven tightly over the years that enables the social fabric of the community to stay strong.
Sociologists have looked closely at the factors that keep some western communities on top of the tidal wave of change but no one has specifically mentioned the human need for comfort and familiarity. The phrases “relationship based” and “pseudo communities” have suddenly emerged to discern the differences between the towns that keep their sense of place from those that don’t. Sense of place is intertwined with our feeling of comfort.
Meeker has been on the edge of the boom and bust cycles of western Colorado, yet up to this time has managed to keep the roots buried deep. A few of the people who have come and gone in our community have said that they felt the sting of non-acceptance or distrust. But a few of these same individuals pushed for change quickly, trying to do things their way when they got involved in the community. They went about trying to shape a new way of doing things, which made it difficult for them to feel comfortable when others in the community were reluctant to go a new direction immediately.
When our sense of place is threatened, it is only natural to protect it. Trying to stay close to the kind of life that defines us often results in the building of walls, physical and psychological. Living comfortably in a community that continues in many ways to be the “sleepy cow town” it was reported to be in 1900, requires that one learn to live with some of the things that give the town its real western flavor. Change is coming slowly and surely and those among us who value the area’s culture and traditions are working hard to bridge the gap between old and new.